The zombie movie is a genre unlike any other in film. It can be a complete exploitation vehicle replete with buxom babes and crazy flesh eaters. It can be stylistically well put together and elevate both the genre and medium. Or, it can serve as a metaphor for the times we are living in. When MovieWeb interviewed the Godfather of zombie films, George A. Romero, he was asked if he wanted to make anymore Dead films. To paraphrase, he said that he did but he wanted to have the films "mean something." One could argue that you could do this in any genre, but there is something about the zombie genre that lends itself to metaphors.
So what makes a great zombie movie? Is it the FX? Is it the story? Is it how it might speak to the events of our time? Is it the Walking Dead themselves? It seems that it needs to be a mix of all these things. And, if the film is lucky, even amidst the craziest moments of doom, it appears that an element of comedy doesn't hurt either. These films can't be Mr. Holmes. The need to have a big mix, the kitchen sink, and let's not forget at least a little sex never hurts. Unless it's with a biting severed head hungry for more brains!
The best zombie films are able to be political (Night of the Living Dead), farcical (Zombieland), scary (Day Of The Dead), and unique (Shaun of the Dead). Like anything, these rules aren't hard and fast. Just because a zombie film has all these elements, that doesn't make it a good zombie film. It still needs to be executed well. Trust us when we say that over the years, there have been plenty of Living Dead movies that have either been brain dead, or completely devoid of life all together. You won't find any of those movies here.
In putting together this list of 'The 16 Best Zombie Movies of All Time', we wanted to satisfy ourselves as well as the hardcore fans of the genre. As we stated above, zombie films are unique. They take us into a world that is both multifaceted and horrifying. It stands to reason that a list celebrating these films should be both scary and filled with surprises. And that's exactly what we hope happens here. If you disagree with one of the movies, or think we're assholes for not including Juan of the Dead alongside Dawn and Shaun, just know it would have been our 18th pick (we already have a bonus entry!). And don't even get us started about World War Z.
George A. Romero is the father of the zombie flick. So of course we kick things off with him right at the top. Please don't be upset that we split his third film away from the original trio. While we like that movie a lot, we feel a few newer releases stepped up the genre, and said some of the things better than Day Of The Dead could have hoped to. With that said, here we go. Here are our picks for the 16 best Zombie movies of all time. Agree to disagree!
1Night of the Living Dead 1968
George A. Romero's groundbreaking tale of zombies attacking people in a small house is a thing of legend. Never before had we seen brutality on screen like this. How many times before this had we seen an African American man as the hero in a horror movie? Filled with comedy, frights, and the somberness of the 1960s, Night of the Living Dead was also a metaphor for the atrocities of war with the US incursion in Vietnam firmly in its sights. A truly groundbreaking, landmark film in ANY genre.
2Dawn Of The Dead 1978
George A. Romero returned 10 years later with another gem. Set in a mall, Dawn Of The Dead more overtly seems to be skewering the American tenets of capitalism and consumerism. With the zombie problem now at epidemic proportions, people are forced to hole up in a mall as they seek refuge and fight off these human flesh eaters. Aside from the top notch FX and intriguing story, Dawn Of The Dead is a really good movie; it just happens to have zombies in it. No death in this film is a throw away. There is a reason for the kills. Statements are being made, and by proxy, Dawn Of The Dead elevates itself in the process.
3Shaun of the Dead 2004
Released in 2004, Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead was truly a revelation. This was a film that turned the genre inside out. Yet, it wasn't deconstructing the zombie films that had come before it (like Scream did with the horror genre), it was celebrating them in a way that everybody was "in on the joke" because there was no joke to be had. As with all great zombie films, Shaun of the Dead centers around (you guessed it!) a zombie outbreak. However, rather than just fight for survival, our main characters (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), have to reconcile relationships in the process. Sure, this film is filled with jokes and grand moments of comedy, but it is truly groundbreaking the way this film breaks down the zombie genre and manages to give us a pretty darn good gorefest in the process.
 Zombie 1980
This seminal zombie film has it all. First off, it has the legendary Lucio Fulci as its director. He was a man who reveled in the work he did within the horror genre. It was as if he saw all the violence, gore, and mayhem that zombies could elicit, and he knew that could be a platform to explore other ideas. Secondly, you have people in a tropical paradise that are experiencing a nightmare. The ability to contrast pristine settings with flesh eating creatures from the undead, is part and parcel of what makes these films effective. Lastly, look at the cover art for this movie. If you met someone who had no idea what a zombie was, all you would need to do would be to show them this image. It is grotesquely beautiful just like the film itself.
Director Dan O'Bannon's mid-80s film was more fun than the other Dead films, but that doesn't mean it is less effective. The great conceit of the zombie films is that even amidst these treacherous situations, there is plenty of room for humor and contemplation. The story is simple, a gaseous substance is released into the air and suddenly the dead return to wreak havoc. This would be enough but these zombies have a punk rock angle! Now, maybe this was a subtle way of saying that marginalized sub-cultures would soon take over pop culture (as it happened!), or perhaps it was a way of cashing in on one of punk rock's nadir moments. Whatever the case, it is very hard to sit through The Return of the Living Dead and not be entertained.
Now this movie is a true cult classic! On the face of things, Stuart Gordon's tale of medical students experimenting on and ultimately re-animating dead people, might not even seem like a zombie movie in the classical sense of the term. However, there is such a sense of smarts about this film, it even makes its camp factor a bit creepy. One watches Re-Animator and never really knows where they stand as a viewer. Should we be scared? Should be we be laughing? Is it wrong to gleefully dine in the terror of medical experimentation gone awry? Whatever your feelings, Re-Animator is a film for the ages.
7Day Of The Dead 1985
Underscoring this 1980s masterpiece is the sense of futility that this film gives off. It is almost as if George A. Romero is standing on a building screaming, "You see what happens when you don't embrace something different, something odd, something out of your ordinary?!?! It eventually overcomes you!" In this installment of the Dead Franchise, scientists have now been relegated to an underground safe house where, again, zombies are trying to kill them. This movie is a slow burn as far as action goes, but once things get going, the beasts have been unleashed and nobody, no matter where they go are safe!
8Dead Alive 1992
Before Peter Jackson made films that couldn't cost less than $150 million dollars, he made this tiny zombie film that has had a life of its own. The story follows a boy whose mom becomes infected by a monkey. She dies but, alas, returns and starts making meals out of almost anything living around her. One could say it is the FX that make this film work. You could argue that people just love zombie films. However, we think Peter Jackson, by tapping into the bond between a mother and her son, has ultimately made a scary movie that tapped into universal truths. In doing so, that has made this film stand the test of time.
928 Days Later 2003
Harkening back to the statement driven films of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead, 28 Days Later is a gorefest, horror movie and cautionary tale. After animal activists invade a laboratory, they inadvertently release a virus that creates a zombie outbreak. However, these zombies are different, and the way they act is more anger/raged based, then the other kinds of flesheaters we are used to seeing in other films. Danny Boyle has proven himself to be a master genre jumper. He has deftly crafted a tale that calls out humanity in all its guises. There are those who simply exist and don't pay attention. Then there are those who pay to much attention to everything, and soon forget about the humanity they are trying to preserve. With 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle seems to be saying that if we are going to survive this world, maybe we all (zombies included) need to be somewhere in the middle.
Now, this film is comedy first, gore second, but neither is any more or less important in Ruben Fleischer's thrill ride. With characters that have names like Columbus, Wichita and Tallahassee (so named because this where in the US they hail from), one thing is clear in Zombieland, survival is the name of the game. Part road trip, part coming of age story, all fun...Zombieland is what one might imagine Planes, Trains & Automobiles would've been if there were flesh easting monsters, guns, chainsaws, Twinkies and Bill Murray involved. While not deconstructing the genre, Zombieland rises above the fray simply because, in a lot of ways, this movie is a comic road trip and the flesh eaters seem to be asking for permission to join it. One gets the feeling that had they had a choice, they never would've gotten involved with these crazy people in the first place!
11Planet Terror 2007
It is arguable that Rose McGowan has never looked better in Robert Rodriguez's retro-opus. However, Planet Terror isn't just a movie recalling the great grindhouse films of the 1970s and 1980s. This is a great movie simply because of its careless abandon. The story is simple, the government makes a mistake with a biological weapon, this leads to lives lost and the outbreak of zombies. The zombie outbreak spreads and a group of oddballs are thrown together to stop it. Filled with blood, guts, gore and girls (and guys!), this movie may have been overpriced in it's creation, but look at the remains we're left with. Everything about this film is over the top for the sake of being over the top. Sure, its production fell far afield from the cheapy, grindhouse movies that inspired it, that shouldn't hurt Planet Terror's standing as a classic.
12The Serpent and the Rainbow 1988
Is there a zombie movie, or any movie for that matter with a cooler title? Lensed by horror meastro Wes Craven, this film looks at how voodoo might play a role in the reanimation of human beings. Shot on location in Haiti, this film was a slow burn of the highest order. However, like The Believers and other horror movies of that time, this film is scary simply by virtue of it's harrowing subject matter. With the image of Bill Pullman on its one sheet, this movie was very good at tapping into our true fears of life, death and beyond.
13Pet Sematary 1989
Not a zombie flick per se, this film, based on a novel by Stephen King is many different things at once. The Creeds move to a new home in Maine. Everything is good in this quiet setting until the Creeds' young child is killed. This is when the parents find out about a Pet Sematary behind their home. They learn that they can bury their child there and he will come back. Well, he does and, as you can guess, he isn't the boy he once was. By making the killer an adorable little boy, it completely throws off our expectations of what a killer is capable of. Some Stephen King adaptations are hit (Stand By Me) or miss (Dreamcatcher). Pet Sematary hits as a zombie film because it is replete with thrills, chills, gore and a killer that can disarm you with their smile.
14Night of the Creeps 1986
How could a zombie movie by the creator of The Monster Squad not be good? Night of the Creeps focuses on these small creatures who invade human beings through the mouth and then turn them into zombies. Keeping with the great 1980s tradition of young people solving their own problems, it takes a few teenagers to realize that something needs to be done. With horror movie stalwart Tom Atkins involved in the proceedings, Night of the Creeps still makes for a great late night viewing experience. While maybe not as well known as some of the more popular zombie-fare, Night of the Creeps holds up because it is a zombie film that honestly believes in itself.
 The Beyond 1983
Lucio Fulci's The Beyond is another artfully done horror affair. The story follows a woman who inherits a home (a classic horror movie trope), and comes to learn that it actually sits on an entrance to hell. On its own, this story probably doesn't pop off the screen. But one doesn't necessarily enjoy a Lucio Fulci movie for the story! This film is visually stunning. There is gore and grotesque goings on that are entirely on another planet. However, this movie always remains tasteful. It is Lucio Fulci's ability to straddle those worlds that makes this film stand out. It was released in 1981, and while it looks dated by virtue of the fact that it is an old film, there is nothing "old" about The Beyond. A true masterpiece of cinema.
One of the more recently released zombie flicks, Slither sees a small town infected by aliens. Shortly after this, the town becomes a zombie haven that must be stopped. Featuring an eclectic cast that includes Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks and Michael Rooker (a true cult character if ever there was one!), Slither is altogether a different kind of zombie movie. Yes, we've seen this story a million times before. However, director James Gunn really seems to be reveling in what it means to be a flesh eating monster. This film is filled with blood, gore and humor. While there doesn't appear to be a big message like the films of George A. Romero, this movie is a good time because it is so well executed.
**BONUS** Bio Zombie 1998
On the face of it, Bio-Zombie might play as a redux of the themes in Dawn of the Dead. A Hong Kong shopping center is experiencing business as usual until zombies appear and take it over. From this moment on, Wilson Yip's film becomes a frenetic game of cat and mouse as the remaining shoppers and employees who are not zombies try to survive. This is a film that most casual zombie fans probably don't talk about too much. However, those in the know truly understand just how important this overseas import is. Sure, it is from the 1990s but it's heart is in the 1980s and even more importantly, one call tell the filmmaker and writers really love the movies that inspired it.
Okay, did we get this list right or will some flesh eaters be offended? We know that zombie films touch a certain nerve which is why this list was created in the first place. So, what do you think we missed? What did we sink our teeth into? Let us know and be nice... if you can!